After recently receiving a graduate degree in clinical nutrition from Rutgers University, Natalia Guzmán’s next stop was Washington, D.C. She beat out 300 applicants to receive one of 26 public policy fellowships with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), where she’s assisting child nutrition research efforts initiated by the House Committee on Education and Labor as their CHCI-PepsiCo Nutritional Health Graduate Fellow. She hopes to take what she’s learned from this experience and become a better nutrition advocate at the community level once she is credentialed as a registered dietitian nutritionist.
Guzmán is already off to a great start. While at Rutgers, she was heavily involved in community nutrition outreach programs, including the New Jersey Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (NJ EFNEP). NJ EFNEP offers free nutrition classes and educational resources to limited-resource families. She currently plays a crucial role in expanding nutrition education to Spanish-speaking communities via her role as content creator at Nutrition On Demand. We caught up with Guzmán at the start of her fellowship to discuss her new role and future aspirations.
How are you feeling now that your fellowship has started?
I’m excited! This fellowship is something different, especially for dietitians. We don’t really learn about public policy in our [school] programs. What I want to learn is how policy works from the inside out and how I can be a better advocate and dietitian at the community level.
You were involved in a number of community-oriented programs while at Rutgers. Why is the community aspect of dietetics a particular interest of yours?
When it comes to nutrition, a lot of blame is placed on the individual. People fail to see that it’s greater than that – there are social determinants of health. There’s environmental racism and food apartheid in our communities. I genuinely and passionately feel that we need to focus on nutrition at the community level, where we can establish better and equitable access to [healthy food] in order to be fully dedicated to nutrition-related disease prevention. Then we can start treating the individual. But to bridge these gaps in the community, it has to involve policy. That’s why I applied for a fellowship that focuses on policy.
How does your work with Nutrition On Demand help bridge those gaps you’re seeing?
I’m helping to create content for Cooking Matters [an organization that works with communities across the U.S. to help parents and caregivers develop skills for food shopping and cooking healthy on a budget]. They provide free, accessible resources for communities throughout the United States, including Spanish-speaking communities. I feel like being a part of something that makes this nutrition information free and accessible is a great stepping stone [for change].
How did you get involved with Nutrition On Demand?
Through the Academy [of Nutrition and Dietetics], I was involved in the group Latinos and Hispanics in Dietetics and Nutrition. The chair sought me out because Nutrition on Demand reached out to them. I was their social media coordinator and had that experience, so he reached out to me about this position for content creator. I’m really grateful to be a part of the [Nutrition On Demand] team. Having the chance to be working with Spanish-speaking populations in a different way has helped me be a better member of the community.
What is something unique you hope to bring to the nutrition and dietetics field?
What I hope to bring is advocacy and exposure to dismantling some ideas, such as diet and wellness culture. I hope to expand my social media presence so I can promote science-based nutrition education and dismantle stigma around weight while becoming a practitioner who offers weight inclusive care.
Lastly, anything else interesting about yourself you care to share?
I’m a Salvadoran-American, first-generation college student along with my sisters. I love to paint and draw in my free time. I haven’t had much time for that lately, but I did bring my easel and paints with me to D.C.!
—Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Fred Durso, Jr.